Even during a pandemic, children sadly get sick and require care in hospital. For a Petawawa family, that meant travelling nearly two hours to get treatment at CHEO.

Anu and Ryan Nicholas welcomed their daughter Ella Mae to the world back in August. Ella Mae was born with a genetic condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta.

"You’re born with osteoporosis, so her bone structure isn’t as sound," explains Ryan, who was also born with the disease. "She had a broken femur in utero and then during the delivery she experienced a few minor fractures in her wrists and skull."

The condition meant the family had to travel nearly two hours away from home in the middle of the pandemic in order to seek care.

"Now I do have some family in Ottawa but due to the pandemic we weren’t exactly comfortable staying with them and going to the hospital," says Ryan. “We didn’t want to impose."

They found a spot to stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Ottawa.

"It’s an incredibly stressful time to have a sick child, period," says Cathy Loblaw, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities Canada. "Then to have to be out of your community and away from your normal support systems to get health care, and then you have to do all that within a pandemic."

The Nicholas family ended up staying over a month at the Ronald McDonald House at CHEO, much longer than the average of two weeks, according to Loblaw. However, the longer stay meant Ryan had to go back to work, which caused complications with the strict COVID-19 protocols at Ronald McDonald House.

"The rule was he couldn’t come back into the house," says Anu. "So the next month he would just visit Ella Mae at the hospital and then he would have to head back (home) or stay with our relatives. So we couldn’t really stay together or anything."

“The pandemic has just added another layer of stress, another layer of worry," says Loblaw.

"It was stressful every day in and out," recalls Anu. "Because you don’t know when we can get home, you don’t know when she’s going to be completely healed. I couldn’t even hold her until like two weeks or something."

Loblaw says the Nicholas family is one example of the struggle thousands of families have had to go through over the past year.

"Annually across all of Canada, there’s about 1.2-million paediatric hospitalizations each year. Within that, 55,000 families are estimated to have to travel up to 100 kilometres or more to get to a children’s hospital."

The Nicholas family is home again now in Petawawa, and Ella Mae is moving around lots and doing well, according to the new parents.

“(Ronald McDonald House) did what they could during these extremely odd times, so we’re very thankful for it.”